Page 145 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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T h e re are th ree major characters in the novel. But as we have
seen, none o f them is a hero, in tha t no one resists the forces
weighted against him, no r genuinely shapes his own destiny.
Not only are Goldmann, Caesar and Yisrael not built in the
heroic mould, not only are they un fo r tuna te in circumstance,
but they do not develop in character no r grow in the self-
knowledge that would be useful in creating their story.
But there is ano ther force implied in the novel which does
weigh on these characters and their circumstances, and which
proves decisive. This is time. Perhaps too obvious even to be
a cliche, that this is the factor that will eventually obliterate all
others, this is the backdrop, explicit o r implicit, against which
everything in
is relayed. This would seem to contradict what
we have ju s t cited as Yisrael’s attitude to life, that he was living
in deliberate unawareness o f reality and time. But the “unaware­
ness” here is a contrivance adop ted by the character, who match­
es time with reality. These two are intertwined parts o f each
other. Time is reality, and so it cannot be authentically ignored.
Only a pretence can be made, and the efficacy o f this pretence
is dubious. Such pretence is made by Caesar, who attempts to
th rus t aside the actual misery o f his reality by crowding his life
with the paraphernalia o f erotica. Caesar does not solve his
problems by packing them out, no r does he genuinely alleviate
his distress. The son is as sick as ever, and his end approaches.
Multiplication o f erotic experience does not forever hold the
same fascination. And naturally, his own life is in decline. As
for Goldmann, the problem and its solution are announced ab
initio. Suicide is the only possible negation o f time, as it is life
that is lived in time, and so only dea th remains outside time
and beyond it.
Time is a very significant factor in the narrative o f
Proust’s novel is about the attempt to recover lost time on the
part o f the n a r ra to r ,15 so
avoids the cliche in the truism
about time in the effo rt tha t the characters make to loosen its
grasp. In this lies their specific humanity. But still
is a story
told on levels o f time — the ongoing present, i.e. the passage
15. See the final section o f
A la Recherche du Temps Perdu,
“Le Temps Retrouve.”